BLOOMFIELD >> Artifacts from the ancient Puebloan culture were found by road construction workers last Tuesday.
Crews found pieces of pottery while widening U.S. Highway 64 on the road's south side in front of Salmon Ruins.
While cutting out part of a dirt bank in front of the ruins' parking lot, Hector Beyale, a laborer with Mountain States Constructors, Inc., noticed something red and black glinting in the midmorning sun.
While standing at an angle along the sloping berm, Beyale reached down and picked up a piece of pottery the size of a business card, dusted it off and knew he had found something out of the ordinary. He brushed away more loose soil along the bank and found another fragment, similar in size, strewn together with fragments of charcoal, burned corn fibers and other materials.
"I could see the reddish color with hand-painted black lines and knew this was something," Beyale said. "It was a nice piece with a pretty good size to it. There was also charcoal and other bits. I moved the dirt around and kept finding more things like it."
Beyale, 32, said his trips through the years to area parks, including Salmon Ruins, made identifying the fragments easier.
"I've been to Mesa Verde and I've seen Chaco Canyon and seen the painted black lines and that style before," he said of his find. "I could also feel the shape and texture of it that made it seem important."
Beyale reported the discovery to Tim Dudley, the road project's superintendent, who walked across the parking lot and into the museum's library to alert Larry Baker, executive director at Salmon Ruins.
"I'm speculating, but I believe it's midden, a trash deposit, based on the diversity of shards," Baker said. "This is great. We're in the process of recording the discovery, which we will keep it as part of our artifact collection."
Pieces of pottery, burned corn fragments, burned charcoal and fragments of a mano — a grinding stone — were among the discovery's contents, Baker said.
Baker said he thought it might be Pueblo III-era — between 1100 and 1300 A.D. — pottery based on the painted design on the shards.
He had the bank where the midden was discovered marked off to protect the area for mapping and further sample-taking.
Tori Myers, a ceramic specialist at the ruins, inventoried the find.
"I'll be cleaning them up a bit and identifying the origins of the pottery fragments, if we can, to see whether they come from nearby or far away," Myers said. "I'll try to pin down the stylistic aspect and any details on them — how they were manufactured. It's small, but it's important."
Results of Myers' investigations may take some time, she said.
In the meantime, Baker was cheered by the unexpected find and grateful the Beyale came forward.
"We wouldn't have known about it had the road crew not told us about it," Baker said. "It shows the level of cooperation between the road work crews and Salmon Ruins."
James Fenton covers Aztec and Bloomfield for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4621.